Media studies courses might be in short supply, especially now as high schools lose budgets and colleges trip over themselves to appease the fringes. For that reason, there might be some value to the youtubers who make some sort of living keeping up with the algorithm of that site by constantly posting rants or live-streams rattling off opinions on trending topics of the moment in pop culture. Some of them like Midnight’s Edge manage a reserved, sane-sounding analysis of what is being sold and the context behind it while exposing what might alarm some of the potential audience being played.
Some of what follows is insinuated by reports but these are the dots likely to connect:
In March, Alita: Battle Angel was off to a good start before being muscled out of premium priced venues by Disney’s Captain Marvel which reportedly did not actually fill those additional screenings but managed to prevent people who showed up expecting to find Alita (by director Robert Rodriguez and writer-producer James Cameron) on the marquee from seeing what they came for and knowing that most average people would settle for whatever else was available. Since the Fox sale to Disney had not been settled yet, Disney had an incentive to keep the Fox stock lower by repressing what might have been a larger hit. It is theorized that they also didn’t want anything else to steal the thunder of Captain Marvel as the supposedly only female led action movie. Alita was the more entertaining option, but the absurdity of propaganda against it included a few loud voices who claimed the character (whose body is a robot) is objectified and sexual-ized, even though she initially is revived with the body intended for the mentor figure’s paralyzed daughter who did not live to utilize it. Well, if you want to secure bookings for Avengers: Endgame coming soon and stay in Disney’s good graces, you had best bump Alita for the more PC Captain Marvel. And fans – if you root for the success of Alita and you have no interest in the Brie Larson starred Captain Marvel then you must be trolls living in your mother’s basement and you must hate women. And hands are clamped over the ears if you reply with a list of names you like, Princess Leia, Wonder Woman, Ripley, Sarah Connor (returning with Linda Hamilton this year) Jamie Lee Curtis (returning last year as updated Laurie Strode)…. and on and on.
Back in 1977, the adaptation of a novel The Other Side of Midnight was a Fox movie that exhibitors wanted to book. They were eventually fined for block-booking because they told some theater owners they could only book The Other Side of Midnight if they would book the movie they had no interest in – a movie that only managed to get about 40 venues by its debut May 25, 1977 – a flick that was then simply titled Star Wars.
So the cycle goes on. The studios and their marketing budgets have the megaphone of talk show hosts who don’t want to anger them, movies stars that are welcome guests everyone wants to appease, millionaires talking from a high place. And yet they are worried about youtube pundits and random people in the comments sections and Facebook groups that have no power and no money other than what they spend watching movies, preferably as mindlessly as possible and without question.
I’ll be curious enough to question how a section of the death star which exploded in Return of the Jedi (1983) ended up on Endor (as opposed to the forest Moon of Endor) after it exploded so spectacularly. But then there is the possibility (that I’ve seen nobody raise) that it might be a section that was missing in the first place from that movie’s variation which was under construction. And so I will leave it at that until I am proven wrong in December. I’ll have measured enthusiasm for a new Star Wars and I was okay with Episode VIII The Last Jedi although I merely accepted it and liked some of it while still gradually understanding why so many once built-in audience members have left the fanbase. Brand appropriation should be taken more seriously. As should, frankly, communication between creatives and outlines for narratives than span a few films. The Lucasfilm story group that consulted on the new trilogy was revealed to not have quite the dramaturgical dream team expected or people well versed in Star Wars lore but people with identity politics as the first priority concern. So instead of having a message emerge organically from well designed characters in a story well told, there is ham-fisted focus on what is least interesting and ultimately filmmakers trolling the audience on twitter. And related novelists also stirring the pot. So they can turn a license to print money into a gamble by splitting the core audience – the most passionate – in half.
Word is (at this moment) that Daniel Craig and the James Bond character will be retired from features after the next movie, but that the number 007 will continue as if that much of the brand is enough, and that a lady spy will have been introduced. So the posters presumably will have 007 in big letters and maybe the title of the movie to fish people in, but maybe underplay the fact that James Bond is not in it. Good luck with that.
Back to spending money and who spends it. Star Wars merch and Star Trek merch have something in common: It is mostly consumed by older fans from their mid-thirties into their early fifties. That may earn a few slings and arrows, now that the terms nerd and geek are now benign and have been replaced by such hostile terms as incel. But the difference is that Lucasfilm/Disney may still have a piece of Hasbro so they can still crank out unsold Rose Tico action figures but Star Trek has to have its merchandising licensed by outside companies. Those toy companies and model kit companies have sales data a this point that tells them designs based on the Original Series and Next Generation will sell and anything from the Bad Robot era will not. They reject deigns from Star Trek: Discovery and derivations presented for the pending Jean-Luc Picard series. That has held up production on the latter. Bad Robot took on Star Wars and Star Trek for the possible additional profit that derives from merchandising and their changes that allow them to have a piece of that are the reason the market and toy companies have no interest.
That is one example, a canary in the coal mine, that might make it worth taking seriously the tastes, preferences and concerns of old school fans that Kathleen Kennedy of Lucasfilm has stated publicly she owes nothing to. In a time where it is easy to get free market research from reading the concerns of those they call trolls, maybe there would be value in taking advantage of that instead of being blindly top-down in their decisions.
From what I have heard, the directors of Avengers: Endgame have listened to fans or are in synch with fans and have told their story accordingly. I will see it ASAP.
Hopefully Bad Robot will relent in their concerns for merch, and it would be great if the two split halves of Viacom came to a settlement to allow Star Trek to exist in its own sort of embassy and not have to be caught in the middle and torn apart so that canon can be restored.
Personally, In can only absorb so much of the animus that gets thrown around over these kinds of things on-line. Free wifi and free content on youtube can also be costly to the mind. There is a lot of anger over these issues, as dispassionately as they are presented here. It is not enough for people to have a dream job on a Tiffany IP, but they have to make sure they can get a chunk of merch or push a social agenda without earning it in the narrative. Kennedy may not get around to allowing a Kenobi movie (old white guy in the desert) or a Knights of the Old Republic movie (too many old white guys want it) but expects to eventually bring back the characters introduced in VII, VIII and IX. Well, it’s fine for Rey, Poe and Finn and BB8 to ride the coat tails of the Original Trilogy cast, but there will NOT be the nostalgia for them in a world where the is so much more content and so less attention span than in 1977-1983.